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The Saturnian Magnetosphere

Saturn's magnetosphere

The magnetosphere of Saturn is the most complex in the solar system. The solar wind at Saturn interacts not only with the magnetized planet as it does at the Earth but the system includes several unique features: 

  • Large quantities of dust particularly in the ring plane.
  • The moon Titan with its appreciable atmosphere.
  • The icy satellites.
Each of these has important effects on the solar wind interaction, for example:
  • The rings prevent the formation of significant radiation belts at Saturn. Electrostatic effects due the plasma environment are thought to be responsible for the formation of 'spokes' observed in ring images. 
  • Near the orbit of Titan there is a plasma torus formed by escaping hydrogen and nitrogen gas from Titan and hydrogen from Saturn itself. 
  • Any material escaping the icy satellites will be subject to the ion pickup process; an oxygen rich plasma torus therefore surrounds the icy satellite orbits. 
The system is rich in plasma physical processes which are important not only locally but throughout the solar system. In general, CAPS will study the sources and sinks of the magnetospheric plasma using measurements of the composition and distribution function. Transport, auroral and bow shock processes will be of significant interest. 

26th May 2006
Andrew Coates and Hazel McAndrews